Peter Mansbridge of "The National", the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's (CBC) news program, interviewed Prime Minister Stephen Harper last night on his five years in office so far. It's a surprise for me to realize that Harper's Conservatives have lasted that long and that their position is as stable as it seems. From the very beginning, the Tory minority-run government in Parliament was seen as a short term reaction against corruption and incompetence among the long-dominant Liberals. Then it became mostly a popular rejection of talk of a coalition between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Conservatives were, more or less, the only option left. (The Bloc Quebecois are formidable in French-speaking Quebec, but have no appeal elsewhere.)
Five years ago many Canadians were anxious about a Conservative government, mainly because most Canadians are probably center-left, not center-right. It is the splintered nature of the left--Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens--that made the Conservative victory possible. One had to wonder how long a Tory minority plurality in Parliament could be sustained with losing a vote of confidence.
But in the ensuing years, despite the international recession, Harper & Company have conducted themselves with aplomb. As he said in the CBC interview, the Government under Harper has had had serious scandals and has avoided disastrous mistakes on both the domestic or international fronts. In fact, Conservative adroit economic policy has helped position Canada as a rare standout performer among developed nations. Canada's dollar (the Loony) is a cent above the US Dollar--in great contrast to a decade ago--and the housing industry is in much better shape than America's. Gas-fed exports fro Alberta help Canada maintain a healthy trade posture.
Harper is not given to chest thumping, but he rightly noted to Mansbridge, "I think arguably we are running right now the freest, the most free enterprise government in the developed world. ... We're one of the few countries reducing our taxes. Even with our deficits and debt we're at some of the lowest levels in the developed world in these areas."
This situation, he observes, is the "reality" of Conservative government, not an ideological abstraction.
Canadians don't much like abstractions, actually. Their philosophical leaning may be center-left, but they are temperamentally conservative. They don't like radical change. That may help explain their current satisfaction with Mr. Harper. He doesn't enjoy a permanent mandate or even a long term one. But Canada has mature, reliable leadership right now and the country seems to respect it. Respect is a big political advantage in any country.
Part two of the Peter Mansbridge interview of P.M. Harper is tonight--on what the Conservatives would do in the (probably unlikely) event they were able to obtain a clear majority, not just a plurality in the House of Commons.